Article 4486 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston
What it is: Live-action cartoon
Popeye the sailor arrives in the town of Sweethaven looking for his pappy. There he adopts a child, meets his love, and makes an enemy of the town bully, Bluto.
First of all, I marvel at the casting; Robin Williams does about as good a job at bringing Popeye to life as anyone could, and I love that he adopts the muttering style that Popeye used in the Fleischer cartoons. Shelley Duvall was a perfect choice for Olive Oyl, and all the other familiar characters are very well chosen. I also think the movie looks magnificent; the town of Sweethaven has a stunning ramshackle look, and the use of color is excellent. However, I do have some real problems with the movie. I really think Robert Altman was the wrong choice for this type of film; though he is certainly capable of excellent work, his movies project a unique vibe that really feels out of place for the subject matter here, and the improvised chatter that is his staple often detracts from the slapstick humor that belongs here. The decision to turn it all into a musical only makes it weirder, and the songs by Harry Nilsson often left me scratching my head. Things pick up quite a bit once the movie remembers it has a plot, but that doesn’t really happen until the last quarter; it’s only then that it starts to feel like a Popeye story. For a while I was wondering if there was even going to be any real fantastic content, but we do get super-strength when Popeye finally eats his spinach, and there’s a giant octopus thrown into the mix. Ultimately, I don’t think the movie is a disaster, but it does leave me with such a weird vibe that I can’t call it a success.